Cold Flesh by Andrew Knighton – Free Extract

After the free story from Alt Hist Issue 7, which we posted a couple of weeks ago, here’s the first of our free extracts from the other stories in Issue 7. First up is a medieval tale from Andrew Knighton, “Cold Flesh”.

Andrew brings us a morality tale from Medieval England. Matthew Tinderfield is happy to see his neighbour, Sir William Bodray, hang for his part in a rebellion against the king. But his satisfaction turns to dismay and horror as he reaps what he has sown. Andrew has previously had other stories with a medieval setting published in Alt Hist—see Alt Hist Issue 1 and 2. “Cold Flesh” neatly combines dark humour with visceral horror.

Cold Flesh

by Andrew Knighton

Death had barely touched Sir William Bodray. He swung from the gallows, as cold and impassive as he had been in life, his stern grimace as fixed as ever. Matthew Tinderfield watched in satisfaction as the last drops of piss dribbled from the tips of his late neighbour’s armoured toes. The man looked like a strung chicken, thin dangling limbs and no real flesh.

Tinderfield patted his well-developed belly and turned to the small crowd. He wondered if any of them had joined Sir William in taking up arms for the Duke of Lancaster. Was John the smith’s bruised hand really the result of an accident at the forge? Had Bildern the shepherd actually grazed his flock in the high hills for the past six months? And where was the widow Elizabeth’s son Tom? Off with his wife’s family, or lying trampled in the mud at Boroughbridge?

Not that it mattered. Those who had survived the revolt could learn their lesson from the likes of Sir William. Those Tinderfield didn’t ferret out, once more proving his loyalty to the king.

“Back to your fields,” he called out, ushering them off with a flap of his hands, rings clacking in the morning stillness. “The show’s over.” And a very good show it had been too.

He relished the moment as they turned and shuffled towards the nearby huts, obedient to his command. Perhaps he could call them back, he thought, just to see them do it again. But no, that would be indecisive, and indecision had not made him the wealthiest man in the parish, would not reinforce his status as their leader now.

“Told you,” he said to the body, reaching up to prod at the torn chainmail. “It’s not about right and wrong, you arrogant old sot. You would only have got them all killed. My way, at least, we get to live.”

He took a jingling pouch from his belt, tossed it to the patiently waiting hangman.

“Most of us, anyway,” he said.


“Someone been at your sheep, Master Tinderfield.” Harold’s voice rustled like dead leaves, barely rising to reach Tinderfield’s ears.

“I can see that, you senile old goat.” Tinderfield sighed. There was no use snapping at the wrinkled shepherd. It was a waste of energy, no amount of fury would change him now. “What did they do?”

“They got old Nara,” Harold said, a note of sorrow in his voice. He hobbled up the uneven field, Tinderfield prowling impatiently along beside him.

“Old Nara?” Tinderfield was loath to ask. Was this really what peasants did, naming sheep? Or was it just a lonely old man’s habit? Regardless, it was all the information he had.

“Mother of the flock,” Harold said. “She had a fine fleece in her day, still not the worst wool.”

He stopped at the edge of a ditch, pointing down into a tangle of brambles. A dank woollen shape lay in the bottom, fleece soaked with brackish water. It didn’t smell like something long dead, though the ditch had the rotten egg stink of poor drainage.

“Why haven’t you dragged her out?” Tinderfield asked, scratching at an itch on his neck. Damned fleas.

Harold patted his leg, the joints twisted and frozen by arthritis.

“Can’t get down there, master,” he said. “Can’t reach with the crook neither.”

Tinderfield sighed and looked back across the fields. He could fetch someone to do this, one of his labourers or a man from the village. But they were busy planting, and after the past year’s disruption he didn’t want to risk losing time on the crops. Besides, he was the head of the parish now, and did not want people to see any sign of his failures.

Reluctantly, he scrambled down the bank, cursing as he lost his footing and slid to the bottom. Icy water soaked his britches, his second best tunic spattered with algae and mud.

He stared down at the sheep. It stared back with one cold dead eye, a fly buzzing at the lid. Old Nara had recently been shorn, and her stubbly hide showed gashes where she had caught on the brambles. Her neck was one big purple bruise.

“The stupid creature strangled herself on a bush,” Tinderfield said, scrambling back out of the ditch. There was mud on his hands now, and his knees, and his elbows. He was cold and filthy and the itch on his neck would not stop. The world was a bitterly frustrating place.

“Really?” Harold peered down at the body. “There one that thick?”

“Really,” Tinderfield snapped. “From now on, take better care of my flock.”


Don’t forget to order your copy of Alt Hist Issue 7 to read the rest of this story and others.

Book Review: Coming Home by Roy E. Stolworthy

Coming HomeComing Home by Roy E. Stolworthy

Reviewed by Christopher Yates

  • Paperback, 368 Pages
  • ISBN: 9781781590713
  • Published: NOV 2012
  • Claymore Press

Purchase at |

As we move through the centenary anniversary year of the Great War, one would expect the market to become saturated with the memories, untold stories and fiction novels chronicling the exploits of the heroes of both sides. How will one story stand up against the others? Will they approach the subject matter from a similar angle or will somebody step up and offer something different? I’m pleased to say that Coming Home’ by Roy E. Stolworthy offers the latter.

The novel opens in Westminster Abbey, at the grave of an unnamed soldier. A man, Joshua Pendleton, enters the abbey and kneels at the grave. He removes a watch and, whilst placing it on the tomb, he recites the last part of a tribute chiselled into the marble ‘They Buried Him Among The Kings Because He Had Done Good Toward God And Towards His House.’ Then, after looking left and right to make sure he’s alone, he whispers to the unnamed warrior ‘Hello Thomas. How are you this morning? It’s raining outside, as usual. Although I hear the forecast is better for tomorrow’… It’s a beautiful opening. The iconic image, and one reminiscent of the unmarked graves that litter many a battlefield across the European theatre, created by the simple description of an ‘unnamed soldier’ sets you up for the atrocities ahead, the emotional rollercoaster you are about to embark on, and one that raises the questions for later; Who is Thomas? And why is he known only to one man?

The focus then switches back to 1916 and the story starts proper. The plot is a new, clever take on standard war fiction and can be broken down into three acts. Act one: introduces us to our protagonist, Thomas Elkin. Blaming himself for the accidental death of his brother, Thomas enlists in the army, under his brother’s name, with the sole intention of dying a heroic death in combat. Act two: Boot camp. We witness the deconstruction of the boy Thomas Elkin and the re-construction of the man, Archie Elkin. Act three: The war and Thomas’s attempts to immortalise his brother’s name, whist also coming to terms with the changes within himself and his environment.

As a reader, what we are faced with is a harrowing eye witness account of the horrors of the Great War. We learn as Thomas learns and grow as he grows. What starts out as an exciting adventure quickly turns into the nightmare it really was.  Through Roy Stolworthy’s use of beautiful prose, we are invited to share the sheer desperation those poor men on the frontline felt and the hopelessness of the task they had undertaken. Through allowing us to know Archie’s secret, we are asked to judge his character and the selfish urges that force him to undertake the most dangerous of missions. He not only puts his own life in danger, but also the lives of his comrades who have come to trust and rely on his leadership.

The character of Thomas/Archie is the back bone of the story. I’ve read too much war fiction (mostly glorified American acts of heroism) where the central character is always cut from the ‘Rambo’ mould, willing and wanting to win the war singlehandedly, and I’m glad to say that with ‘Coming Home’ this is not the case. In Thomas/Archie, Roy Stolworthy has created a character that could be anybody. A character that is an Average Joe off the street, thrust into an environment, who is reacting to that environment and the choices that he subsequently makes. Apart from his desperation for death, he has no qualities that are out of the ordinary and this is what makes him so endearing to the reader. In truth, and trying in vain not to be too patriotic, he embodies the real heroes who stood up to be counted when the time came. As such, you can’t hide form the emotional impact of the ordeals he experiences.

However, this is not to say the story is not without its faults. Parts of the narrative don’t sit well and are a bit out of place; for instance the feeding of the brother to the pigs is totally out of character with how Thomas is portrayed and the death of Corporal Wollard at the end of chapter 4 reads like a bit of a cop out. However, ironically, the problem with the story is the main plot point; Thomas’s attempts at death and his subsequent escapes. What starts out as a heroic deed, quickly descents into an annoyance with comedic overtones. Time after time he faces ever increasing odds and time after time he walks away unscathed. As the novel moves on, the reader quickly realises that only a nuclear warhead is able to end this poor boy’s life, whilst everybody around him drops like flies. Maybe I’m being a bit too flippant in my description, but somebody once said to me that reading a good story is like dreaming a dream. Every time there is a mistake or something doesn’t fit, the illusion is broken and you wake up. Unfortunately, these interludes of Thomas/Archie’s depression is where the illusion breaks. It gets old very quickly and at times I found myself skim reading these passages.

Having said that, ‘Coming Home’ is still a brilliant read and one that I would whole heartedly endorse. It deals with the subject matter in a frank, serious, and realistic way and contains an ending that will leave the reader thinking for many a restless night to come.

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